Counting the Cost: The Impact of Corruption on Democratic Growth and Stability

June 07, 2017
08:30 am - 11:00 am

About the Event

In so many places around the world, citizens are losing their patience with official corruption. Increasingly, the impact of government theft, coercion, and abuse of the public trust is being exposed by courageous activists, journalists, and even government officials. Corruption and its terrible effects erode political and economic opportunity and destroy the faith of citizens in government institutions and protections. The National Endowment for Democracy is using its 2017 Democracy Award to highlight the pioneering work of five brave activists who are battling against corruption in Afghanistan, Angola, Guatemala, Malaysia, and Ukraine. We are pleased to have the opportunity to hear from them about the impact of corruption in their countries and the challenges they face in their efforts to confront it.


  • Breakfast
  • Opening Remarks– The Hon. Ben Cardin, (D-MD)
  •  Conversation with the recipients of the 2017 Democracy Award

About the Speakers

Rafael Marques de Morais is an Angolan journalist and human rights defender focused on investigating government corruption and abuses in the diamond industry. His organization, Maka Angola, is a long-time grantee of the NED. Mr. Marques was imprisoned for his work in 1999, for calling President Dos Santos a dictator in an article titled The Lipstick of Dictatorship, and released after international advocacy efforts on his behalf. His case was taken up by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which delivered a precedent-setting ruling in 2005 finding that Angola had violated the journalist’s fundamental rights. In 2000, he won the Percy Qoboza Award for Outstanding Courage from the National Association of Black Journalists (USA). In 2006, he received the Civil Courage Prize, from the Northcote Pakinson Fund (USA) for his human rights activities. In 2011, Human Rights Watch awarded him a Hellman/Hammett grant for his contribution to freedom of expression in Angola. He has published various reports on human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Angola, including Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola (2011). Mr. Marques was a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at NED in 2011, and received a Courage Tribute from the World Movement for Democracy at the Eighth Assembly in Seoul.
Cynthia Gabriel is a human rights advocate and anti-corruption leader in Malaysia. She has spent most of her professional life in the field of advancing and promoting human rights, good governance and democratic freedoms. She founded the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), a NED grantee, which works to promote good governance and conducts a multifaceted project designed to encourage public participation in efforts to combat corruption. Previously, she has served as the Vice President of the Paris-based global advocacy group, International Federation for Human Rights (2004-2009).
Denys Bihus leads TOM 14, a group of professional investigative journalists in Ukraine. In 2013, Bihus launched a very popular anti-corruption television program, Nashi Hroshi (Our Money). The program was initially broadcast and financially supported by a private television channel (ZIK), but was dropped in May 2016 because the team was investigating several cases that could have hurt the interests of the channel’s owners and their business partners. The show has been very popular and influential and its investigations have led to the firing and prosecution of government and law enforcement officials. TOM 14’s journalists have won numerous domestic and international awards. In addition to leading the TOM 14 team and hosting the show, Bihus also coordinates the activities of thousands of volunteers, known as the “Kantselyarska Sotnya” (“The White Collar Hundred”), who are restoring documents shredded by the team of Former Ukrainian President Yanukovych.
Claudia Escobar is a former magistrate of the Court of Appeals of Guatemala and a respected legal scholar. Following her second election to the Court of Appeals in 2014, she became the lead whistleblower in a case of grand corruption that revealed illegal interference in Guatemala’s judiciary by high-ranking political officials including the country’s vice president and the former president of Congress. She is also the founder of the Judiciary Institute and Asociación FIDDI, two organizations dedicated to promoting the rule of law in Guatemala. Following a series of threats that she received for speaking out against corruption in Guatemala’s judiciary, Judge Escobar left with her family for the United States in 2015 to continue her legal work and advocacy for judicial independence. She spent the 2015-2016 academic year at Harvard University as a Scholar-at-Risk Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at NED, where she is examining the impact of international institutions on the fight against corruption in Guatemala.
Khalil Parsa is a key human rights advocate and anti-corruption leader in Afghanistan. He is the founder and executive director of Supporting Organization for Afghanistan Civil Society (SOACS), a NED grantee that promotes good governance and accountability in the Herat province. His multifaceted initiative mobilizes civic groups and encourages public participation to combat corruption. Due to his work, he was the target of an assassination attempt in October 2016. Shot six times, he was fortunate to survive. He relocated to India with his wife and two children while undergoing medical treatments. His wife is also a civic activist. Khalil arrived at NED in April 2017 as an emergency Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow.


Michelle Kosinski is CNN’s senior diplomatic correspondent responsible for covering the State Department. Previously, Kosinski served as the network’s White House correspondent during the Obama administration. She joined the network in 2014 and contributes to all CNN programs and platforms. Kosinski is based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.